BBC Folk Awards 2011

The BBC Folk Awards were announced last Monday and there were some worthy winners. James Fagan and Nancy Kerr richly deserved Best Duo - you're unlikely to meet a more generous and hard-working pair of musicians - while Chris Wood's 'Hollow Point' (Best Original Song) is everything a folk song should be - rooted in tradition but addressing contemporary issues with effortless musicianship, craft and political punch.

But I can't help feeling that there's a weary sense of predictability about the winners. All award ceremonies have to negotiate the tension between the genuine desire to reward artistic accomplishment and the demands of the marketplace. The Folk Awards are no exception (indeed, this is just one of many tensions that folk music in general is faced with - some, after all, might question why a musical genre that is 'of the people' needs an award ceremony in the first place).

But the danger is that with festival organization, CD distribution and band promotion all controlled by an ever narrower set of individuals and agents, and with the gongs apparently rotated around a similarly narrow set of artists, year in year out, the Folk Awards start to look a bit too cosy, driven by the market and not merit. The lifetime achievement award seems to go to anyone from the sixties that the general public might have heard of, irrespective of whether they've done anything in the last twenty years.

The Folk Awards, for all their faults, are undoubtedly good for folk music. But if it's innovation that you're after then head to the Spiral Earth Awards. Who else would pit Sam Sweeney versus the godlike Johnny Kalsi in the Best Musician category? Or include Dreadzone in Best Live Act (after seeing their set at Glastonbury 2010, I can confirm it's an award they thoroughly deserve)?

The Spirals are decided by public vote and there's still time to make your opinion count - voting closes on 21st Feb. Whatever you think about their choices, and the ultimate winners, at least you can be sure that the Spirals are created by fans for fans, and, free of the pressures of the market, they offer a much more balanced picture of what is currently a thriving but diverse music scene.


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